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No Quick Fix On Pensacola Shooting ‘Loophole’

Flickr Creative Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

State officials aren’t finding an easy fix to a federal “loophole” a Saudi national used in obtaining a Florida hunting license and legally buying a handgun before killing three people last week at a Pensacola naval base. 

Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission acknowledged Thursday the issue is more complicated than they thought.

“I still don’t think that we have a proposed path,” commission Chairman Robert Spottswood said Thursday afternoon during a meeting in Panama City.

On Wednesday, the commission directed staff members to quickly determine actions the state could take to address foreigners using state hunting licenses to buy handguns.

Meanwhile, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano told The News Service of Florida on Thursday the hunting-license issue will be part of a broader review the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee had already started after incidents of mass violence. But Galvano added the Legislature might not be able to do much about the loophole.

“That’s a federal law,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. “We’ve already had discussions, and it may be just that all we can do in that regard is send a resolution to our federal counterparts.”

Mohammed Alshamrani, who was killed by an Escambia County Sheriff’s deputy, was able to get a state hunting license in July that he used a short time later to legally purchase a 9 mm Glock 45 pistol from a gun dealer in the Pensacola area.

Federal law generally prevents people in the United States on non-immigrant visas from having guns. But an exception allows them to have guns if they have valid hunting licenses.

They also can have guns if they are certain official representatives of foreign governments or if they are law-enforcement officers from friendly governments in the U.S. on official business, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website.

Alshamrani was a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, studying at Pensacola's Naval Aviation Schools Command.

Spottswood on Thursday directed Commissioner Rodney Barreto to keep working with staff members on addressing the issue.

“It’s such a tragic situation,” said Spottswood, who runs a real-estate investment company in Key West. “If there is some small part that we can take in solving that, it would be great.”

Barreto, a Coral Gables real-estate developer, said Wednesday he had talked with Gov. Ron DeSantis and wanted to “make sure foreigners cannot get guns and have the ability to kill American citizens.”

DeSantis also is looking at what can be done to prevent a repeat of the fatal shooting.

“Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to review state and federal remedies that would help prevent the tragedy that occurred at NAS Pensacola,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre said in an email Thursday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on Thursday asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to bring in the FBI, the Department of State, the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence officials to examine how foreign nationals are vetted on U.S. military bases.

“The terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola was entirely preventable,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear that there were failures in the vetting of this individual. What’s not clear is how the vetting process works, who does the vetting, and how much we’re able to monitor foreign nationals training in the U.S. We need to seriously reconsider the value of training foreign nationals on U.S. military bases, but in the meantime, it’s important that we get to the bottom of what went wrong so we can figure out how to improve the vetting process.”

Among the questions Scott wants answered is whether Alshamrani went “through a standard background check” before purchasing the handgun.

Stars and Stripes reported that the Navy has temporarily halted training for about 300 Saudi military aviation students at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Naval Station Mayport.